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ESPORTS

The Region of Perennial Rookies

The EU LCS teams came to the World Championship with one sole intention: play their own game.

Mettle forms in the furnace of Best of 1. Bo1 sets allow a domestically formed strategy to flourish without room to adapt and require more studious preparation than an extended series in which teams can test counters and then ban out difficult champions. Doubling down on the competition, the 2018 World Championship Group Stage added the twist of eight consecutive days of play without the typical three day break.

For the EU LCS and its history, that only means good news. In 2012, Moscow Five set a new standard for jungle and support control. In 2015, though their lane swap meta was internationally scoffed at, Fnatic and Origen made the world adapt. H2k-Gaming brought Caitlyn and the triple lane threat with fast push into the light in 2016. In 2017, Misfits Gaming rejected the Ardent Censer meta and took historically dominant Korean team SK Telecom T1 to five games as a result. Even in Europe’s darkest year, SK Gaming didn’t shy from putting side lane Vayne on display.

Europe is a region that doesn’t accept a meta set by any teams but its own. With the boldness of an eternal student who hasn't been told his approach is wrong, the EU LCS teaches the rest. This year, that felt true when it came to every opponent Team Vitality, G2 Esports, or Fnatic touched, and will have a reverberating effect for the rest of the tournament. G2 and Fnatic advanced above expectation, and Vitality fundamentally changed the way tournament favourite Royal Never Give Up approached their draft.

Team Vitality on Day Five

Vitality's Group of Death

The rise of the EU LCS began on Day One of Round Two. After a 1-2 start, Team Vitality unsettled analysts with a Draven and Thresh bottom lane duo that played to the strengths of Amadeu "Attila" Carvalho and Jakub “Jactroll” Skurzyński. Heavy pressure from Xin Zhao prevented Royal Never Give Up from getting their single threat composition off the ground.

Vitality made their World Championship debut all about hitting harder and faster. If any other team enters a game wanting to force fights at any opportunity, they will still lose the first punch to Team Vitality.

RNG, wanting to build double bruiser or double tank compositions with Jian “Uzi” Zi-hao as the only damage threat, encountered immediate difficulty protecting Kai’Sa from single target destroyers Ryze, Thresh, and Xin Zhao. They lost their first game of the World Championship to the EU LCS’ second seed.

Team Vitality continued upping the aggression until they encountered Cloud9 for the second time. Despite a 2-0 record against Gen.G and a 1-1 against Royal Never Give Up, the group’s giants, Vitality struggled against Cloud9’s disengage and counter-engage compositions. Nocturne limited any split push potential from Daniele "Jiizuke" di Mauro’s signature Ekko and, if Vitality wanted to continue accelerating the pace, they would always lose out in a group fight to Cloud9’s Zilean and Singed combination with plentiful damage opportunities for Zach “Sneaky” Scuderi’s Xayah.

Despite the pivotal loss that prevented Vitality’s advancement from Group B, the team left a mark on the entire event. RNG changed their draft approach to feature all-in champions like Kalista and more damage from mid and top lane. They, like Vitality, still struggled against Cloud9 in their tie-breaker, but triumphed with Vitality's no-hold-barred approach.

Coach Jakob “YamatoCannon” Mebdi (Europe’s King of Speeches) had a parting gift for the rest of Europe in his interview with Eefje "Sjokz" Depoortere.

Europe and teams in general -- it was always this chase. It was this chase about catching up to Korea, catching up to China -- always trying to learn from them … Don’t try to chase anyone, don’t try to copy anyone, just be confident. Don’t limit yourselves either. Go into this tournament, go into these games believing you can fucking win anything.

Jakob “YamatoCannon” Mebdi

Team Vitality represented European tradition. Europe always brings a majority rookie roster to contest the world’s giants. Rookies, as anyone can learn from Team Vitaliy’s climb this year, are fearless. Rookies are bold because no one has told them yet that they cannot compete or that they are not correct.

The EU LCS has kept a perennial rookie spirit to aid it throughout the years. Even as signs in support of the World Championship’s first Portuguese representative were left in an empty stadium, Vitality left its mark on the rest of the event.

G2 Esports' top side players

G2 Split the Difference

G2 Esports had already begun to set the meta in Group A. In the second day of Round Two competition, G2 demonstrated that powerful solo laners make team fights a secondary consideration.

Luka "Perkz" Perković’s Akali stumped Vietnam’s Phong Vũ Buffalo after Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski could hardly farm his own camps in the early game. G2 pushed through their side lanes to rectify their only loss in Round One.

Despite losses throughout the day to Flash Wolves and Afreeca Freecs, G2 persevered in the tie-breaker granted by Phong Vũ Buffalo’s upset over the LMS’ first seed representative. Flash Wolves selected Mordekaiser to answer G2’s signature Heimerdinger. Though the Mordekaiser and Tahm Kench lane had responses to the Heimerdinger’s pushing prowess, pressure in both solo lanes prevented Flash Wolves from securing dragons. Heimerdinger became more useful in the late game than Mordekaiser, and G2 secured their spot in Quarterfinals.

G2 didn’t just advance in second seed, they shook Afreeca Freecs and Phong Vũ Buffalo from a lull instituted by Flash Wolves. All three teams (except Flash Wolves) have a star top laner upon which they can hang a 1-3-1 composition. G2’s initial Day One upset over Afreeca established a meta with which Seed One team Flash Wolves could not compete. Afreeca adapted to headline the group.

Caps and Broxah of Fnatic

Fnatic's Contest of Strength

A similar event occurred within Group D, where Europe’s strongest representative found its footing. With the rookie spirit of Vitality’s message behind them, Fnatic encountered Invictus Gaming and their star Song “Rookie” Eui-jin -- the man who internalizes the lesson of the eternal student in his name -- in a battle of skill and will.

Despite Fnatic’s headline player Rasmus “Caps” Winther residing in the mid lane, Fnatic chose to blind pick his champion every match they played against iG. The message they learned from their loss to iG in Round One was to free up the bottom lane instead.

Domestically, Fnatic found the most success allowing Zdravets "Hylissang" Iliev Galabov and Mads "Broxah" Brock-Pedersen freedom to assist Caps in 3v1ing the mid lane. Rookie and his team didn’t make that easy, with even skirmishes from start to finish, but Fnatic’s continued the approach by grouping for turrets.

That, in addition to Martin “Rekkles” Larsson’s signature Tristana constantly getting resets and tempo in swap scenarios, allowed Fnatic to dictate the pace of the game. Fnatic trapped Invictus Gaming’s usual predilection for a sloppy 1-3-1 into the center of the map where they came out ahead in team fights and Baron contests. Fnatic avoided slow-pushing so Invictus Gaming had no minute to catch up in side lanes after a failed fight and brute-force their way to become one of Europe’s only first seed representatives in the history of the World Championship.

Bwipo, Europe's last rookie standing

Set the Narrative Straight

While Team Vitality’s spirit traveled with both G2 Esports and Fnatic in their qualification matches, the spirit that the team of rookies brought to the event wasn’t unique or alien. It was an identity Europe has always had.

Not because they are ignorant. Not because they don’t know any better. Europe always sets its own meta. It’s up to the rest of the world to match it or counter it. No matter what year, Europe brings something fresh and new to the table. Teams of young players always succeed domestically in the EU LCS, and that creates a culture of trial and error that the rest of the world doesn’t expect.

In an interview with Inven Global, Team Vitality Head Coach Jakob "YamatoCannon" Mebdi proudly proclaimed that history had been made. “This was the first Worlds where the western teams started to not copy the better regions.”

In that, he is wrong. Team Vitality continued a tradition of meta setting; they didn’t start it. G2 and Fnatic followed their lead, but they were already unshaken from what they knew.

As Quarterfinals approach, the message the EU LCS projects remains the same. We play our game. Adapt or fail. The region of perennial rookies has arrived.